Adaptation

Hurricane Donald

I recently had to face my offensive harshness with telemarketers. For the first time I saw one as a fellow human who was struggling, stressed, and locked into a job he hated. And my glorious Edness had just made his load heavier. That epiphany broke something in me that needed breaking.

The sudden exposure (even in private) of a bad habit or hurtful way is one of the most humiliating and painful episodes in life. I fully understand the Apostle Paul’s harrowing question, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

But, those moments are also essential and helpful. We all need those interruptions of cosmic kindness that disrupt our forward movement. They come to break, refine, and equip us with more grace.

The Beauty and Power of Disruption

Nations, cultures, and groups also need that refining force. Well, guess what. We have it; we are living through a powerful and historic disruption. It’s called “Trump.” But it has very little to do with policy or politics…or Trump. In fact, if he doesn’t already know it, he’ll soon learn that he’s caught in it too.

I think it’s dealing primarily with our arrogance and attitudinal sclerosis. In other words, it’s confronting our swagger and inflexibility. And it is applicable across the board. Like a hurricane, it is staggering across the land, bearing down on every person, group, relationship, event, and institution.

But why?

I believe it is because disruption brings newness into the present, “new” as the invading, explosive, and transformative power of the future. That new will—like a hurricane—rip and splinter old ways.

And that is for our good!

Have you noticed that most people seem to know our present national path is not healthy and not sustainable? So everyone claims to want change—but as a tool they can deploy to manage the future. It doesn’t work like that; real change invades. It’s not controllable by anyone or any agenda, and that’s the secret of its power and beauty.

From time to time, we all need to be so challenged, provoked, and terrified that body fluids leak through our clothes. That’s why and how we change. The great kindness of our Creator always has and always will tear up old ruts, comfort zones, and corruption in order to bring renewal. He will always cut across me; His purposes are too important to leave me (or you) intact.

Where did we ever get the idea that we and our tribe don’t need disruption? Why would anyone think that we get to create, educate, innovate, and negotiate only with those who feel exactly as we do about everything? That’s silly. Maturity requires the ability to work with different and difficult people.

Right here, it gets personal. I didn’t vote for Trump. He was the proverbial “bridge too far” for me. OK, so now what? Looks like I have decisions to make about adaptation, humility and learning new skills and rhythms.

I appreciated seeing the Tech titans—none of whom could be called Trump supporters—actually sit down and talk with the President-elect. For years some have lectured us on the need to sit down together, to “cross the aisle” to work with “the other side.” Oddly, so many of those voices never did that. But Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk and several others did. Furthermore, they agreed to keep meeting together with the new President.

Maybe they understand how the world works.

All Things New

Over the past year I have learned that loss always feels personal. But it never is.

Human instinct seems to always view loss from a close and immediate angle…it happened to me, took something from me, and now forever diminishes me and my future. But that is a distortion, like one cell in a drug addict’s body contorting in pain when he goes cold turkey. That cell cannot see the larger picture and purpose.

Much of what we’re seeing now is the contortion of individual cells. Too many bloggers, political elites, media voices, entertainers, and college students are only looking at Hurricane Donald from a very personal perspective.

To all of them I would say, “Close your eyes and take deep and long breaths. Humble yourself. Walk outside. Look up. Reconnect with the deeper rhythms of the universe. This is not personal any more than a hurricane is personal.”

Relax, trust, and prepare to live in a renewed and beautified landscape – one you didn’t design and one that lies far beyond the ramshackle real estate of your own habits and preferences.

Life After Loss

Over the past 18 months I’ve been working in a laboratory of loss. Through our son Paul’s death, my participation in a study of education in American, my knee replacement surgery, post-surgical recovery and rehab, relocating, political realignments, and global immigration dynamics, I kept being drawn to the issue of loss.

Through all of that, I’ve come to see that loss is not to be feared or rejected. It is a normal and essential part of life’s cadence. If we regard losses properly, they can bring renewal for the next season of life. Here are some of the details:

  • Loss is not personal. Yes, I know that it sure feels personal. In the moment, it seems unique, even historic. But loss is rarely personal. The simple truth is that everyone dies, financial tides rise and fall, relationships get injured, trains go off the rails, etc. The old bumper sticker (sanitized), BAD STUFF HAPPENS, captures a simple, but large and inescapable truth.
  • Life requires that we deal with it. The species cannot continue if humans are immobilized by loss.
  • Loss (a.k.a. ruin, failure, death, destruction, etc.) is always painful and disruptive; it never comes at a good time. So we must learn to accept and navigate it.
  • Loss is short term. Most people tend to view the whole journey through the keyhole of the present moment. But almost nothing we see through the eyes of grief is accurate or helpful in the long term.
  • Loss is an illusion. It might lash, boil, invade, injure and steal from us; it may even leave us face down in the gutter. But it cannot destroy the core of our true identity. For that reason, we don’t have to fear it. Nothing significant is taken away by loss.
  • Loss is a myopic interpretation of a larger change. An old “Far Side” cartoon showed two men fishing on a lake as a large mushroom cloud boiled up over the horizon. One fisherman said to the other, “I’ll tell you what it means, it means screw the limit.” People inevitably view global realignments through the lens of their personal needs and desires.
  • Loss calls us to greater maturity. Living in a culture that encourages emotional indulgence, we tend to welcome grief and offer it a big easy chair. But maturity pushes the grieving out of bed, into the shower, and to the office. And it makes sure that he or she does that every day for the rest of his or her life.
  • Loss passes by. Glen Roachelle once said, “When you go through a storm, don’t become an expert on storms. Just get through it.” It comes. Endure it. Loss moves on; you should too.
  • Loss reveals a higher path. Crises always bring me to see that my “Edness” is insufficient. For me, I can only proceed by faith in God’s total reliability. I’m not assuming this is (or should be) your response, but I have to get up above the big muddy me and ascend into a higher and clearer view.
  • Loss is not The End. Although it appears to be apocalyptic, loss the usually just the end of a season or a way of thinking. What appears to be great loss can be a gate to a brand new future.
  • Life surpasses our earth existence. For me, where I live is not a big deal. Living in God is the real objective. From His place, I am able to more clearly see the vast sweep of the whole journey. And seeing loss from the high ground give a completely new perspective and releases people to accept and bless it.
  • What about loss on a national scale? It seems to me that conservatives tend to view every loss as an assault on our foundations and liberals tend to see losses as threats to progress. Both views are power grabs. In truth, when seen from the high ground, the losses brought by war, disease, economic tremors, social injustice, technology shifts, and even immigration crises are often servants of renewal and redemption.

 

The losses suffered by individuals, families, business and industry, and nations mean old things are blowing away and new things are arriving. Life after loss is much like the land after a thunderstorm. The scent of rain and the purity of the air suggest new beginnings.

Let’s step into the new. We have more to gain than we ever lost.

Remember Who You Are

In “The Lion King,” after Mufasa, the King, died, his son Simba was forced to run away and hide in the jungle. Eventually he totally adapted to a much different place and to a carefree life (“Hakuna Matata”). In reality, he became a different creature. And there, in that alien place, Mufasa returned in spirit in order to call his son to remember his royal roots; “Simba, remember who you are. You are my son…”

When people find themselves in a difficult place, they often think that their condition is very complex, strange, daunting and hopeless. But that is almost never true. More often, they only need to remember who they are. When they do, they can just walk out of the jungle of their false identity.

However, remembering is more than mental assent. Remembering who we are also requires that we fight the inertia that tries to destroy us.

Consider this old story.

A wild duck once flew very high with his flock on the springtime return to northern Europe. But he grew tired and dropped down into a Danish barnyard. He ate corn with the barnyard ducks and enjoyed their company into the night. Although he intended to stay and rest for a short time, the hours turned into days and weeks. After a while he decided to spend the summer in the barnyard.

Then one autumn day he heard the familiar honk of the wild ducks flying south. That sound awakened his true identity. He was not born for the barnyard; he was created for high altitude. His heart reached for the sky. With rapid and loud flapping of his wings he tried to get airborne, but only rose as high as the fence. The barnyard had civilized him; he was fat, soft and weak. Although he knew who he was, he could not return to the sky. For a few years, he held onto the fiction that he would join them “next year.”

Anyone can fall like a rock from his or her true nature. A crisis, a distraction, or a deception can make anyone forget.

Being true to who you are is natural, but never easy. For a duck to fly, it must keep exerting the muscles that allow it to mount the wind. Settling is deadly. In other words, “who you are” is not the same as “what you have become.”

In his book, The War of Art (Grand Central Publishing, 2002), Steven Pressfield examines what he calls “resistance” – that mysterious force that fights our true nature and calling. It is what pulls wild ducks from high flight into the barnyard. According to Pressfield, “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole…Resistance is always lying…” (Page 9)

“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give…Resistance means death. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.” (Page 15)

Our identity is a high altitude reality. But it is dropped into a realm that resists it. For example, it has been estimated that for every book that gets written, more than 6,000 were started and never finished. Something tenaciously fights to disable or destroy the gift.

Perhaps the best way to fight resistance is to seal off the barnyard’s allure of instant gratification  – the Internet, TV, food, alcohol, etc. They lie. They promise affirmation and joy, but lead only to death.

Remember who you are. You have been designed for a place far above that lower orbit of bare minimums. And now is the historic moment; the barnyard gate is wide open. Even if you cannot yet fly, you can walk. Sometimes, just walking away is the down payment to flight.

Sandfish Lizard

The Sandfish and Me

The sandfish is a lizard that lives in the deserts of North Africa. Its name reflects its nature of diving into the sand and then pulling its legs close to its body to “swim” (like an eel) through sand. It does that in order to hide from predators or find cool relief from the heat.

As I watched a recent television feature about the sandfish, I was struck by how that lizard models conformity to God, Who “made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation.” (Acts 17:26, NASB)

Although the sandfish is not part of “mankind,” it is clearly content in, and adapted to, its assignment to a time and a place. It seems delighted to live in the Arabian Desert – and not in the Artic, the mountains, swamps, South Pacific islands, the tundra, or Tokyo.

Our Creator could have placed that sandfish – or me – in any time of history or any place on earth. But He designed both of us for specific times and places. So, why have I been unable to adapt to my own habitat as freely and fully as the sandfish? Why do I live in a continual critique of my “desert” and its problems?

Perhaps if I humble myself that little sand creature can teach me a vital truth: I am here and I cannot change anything about here. I am also God’s workmanship. He made me; I didn’t. So why do I struggle with all of that? I seem to live in continuous anxiety; I feel the need to change my place, my times, and myself. I imagine a need to live so “prophetically” that “sinners” will fall on the ground and writhe in repentance, or that my government will change or collapse.

Why do I live in an assumption that I must emulate people who lived in other times and other places? I seem strangely compelled to live in, maybe, the Congo (or in the first century). Anywhere but here, anytime but now. I seem to think that He cannot lead His creatures in the times and places that He chose. So I work very hard to be an excellent “witness” of Him.

But wait a minute; He said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Perhaps living prophetically and excellently should be fun. I never think about the need to live as a Chinn or with green eyes. He chose all of that for me. He also chose and appointed me to go (into my time and place) and bear fruit (John 15:16). All of that is a natural process. Oak trees don’t grunt to push acorns through their branches.

Real life is a thousand miles from religious life. Our simple acts and real words bear fruit. Routinely. Effortlessly. Those ordinary human words and acts leave an eternal and living gift in our time and space. But the gift comes from God, not me. I am a mere conduit; I can’t do it and I can’t control it. He chose that for me. Just as He chose the Arabian deserts for the sandfish.

Could that be why Jesus told his disciples (and us) to take no thought for what they would eat, drink, or wear? Since all of that has already been chosen for us, we are free to live fully, joyfully, and without worry. Kind of like the sandfish.

For example, consider how most people relate to problems. We react, get depressed or angry, fixate, or self-destruct. Yet consider how the sandfish continually copes with a life and death issue of heat; it just dives five inches from the surface to where the temperature can be fifty degrees cooler. Do you think, if we have eyes to see, salvation may await us just inches away?

The same Mind that created the sandfish also created you and me.  So can we find the same freedom and delight in our Creator as that lizard?

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